Monday, I picked up a CouchSurfing guest from the airport. She’s a 35-year old Ecuadorian, going to grad school in Arkansas, visiting to attend an Ecological Conference at the Convention Center. Her specialty is ants and plants.
Brought her immediately to a group of food carts down the street, called Good Food Here. We got gyros from my favorite, Aybla Grill. Not a bad way to kick off a tasty tour of Portland…
Suggesting she keep the foil around the wrap, I warned her playfully, “you lose points if you drop a piece.”
Then I told her about the coolest thing happening on Mondays around here: Dodgeball. It goes down at Col. Summers Park on SE 20th and Belmont, where on any given Monday evening, you’ll find hundreds of fun-loving people in the park, more-or-less watching a series of massive dodgeball games on the public tennis courts.
On this particular occasion, there were also a few dozen warriors, performing a mock battle. The guy wearing the least amount of clothing, had some sort of leather strappy garment around his privates and fake chest and shoulder armor, like a tall, skinny, wanna-be gladiator. He seemed to be the leader of the warriors. Each was armed with a fake sword, sometimes also a shield, and every ten minutes or so, the group would divide into two rows, yell at each other (weapons raised high), then CHARGE!
When someone got hit, they fell to the ground in agonizing defeat, and played dead until the last man was left standing. Of course, this was always our favorite fighter, the nearly-naked-gladiator. Believe it or not, this does get old. We were much more interested in the main event, dodgeball.
Music blaring, it was still light out. On the tennis courts, an endless series of bouts took place. They were more than 90% dudes, hungry for the kill. To start, they’d line up along one side, and one guy, a tan surfer dude in his 40’s, moved quickly and silently, making brief eye-contact with each person, while pointing left or right. This splits the group into teams.
The music is briefly lowered, and the surfer dude shouts, “Play ball!”
The toughest 10% of each team surges forward to get the balls (which are gathered along the net in the middle) and whoever gets there first will pound the guys on the other side, at close range. The round continues until all the players on one side are eliminated.
Completely entertained, my friend and I played Spot the Hottie.
We met a guy named Handsome Dave, who sat on the bench, manning the stereo, supervising. He wore a referee shirt, short red shorts, and around his neck hung a whistle. Tall and slim, he was smart enough to bring a cushion for his tush.
There was also a guy named Chopper, who I remembered from the waterballoon fight, a couple weeks ago. And a guy named Wes, who looked familiar (as do most faces in Portland) but I couldn’t pinpoint from where.
Wes lamented, “It isn’t how it used to be.”
Dodgeball Mondays have been happening for six years. Six years! Handsome Dave has been coming out, making this thing possible. Chopper, Wes, and several of the other guys sitting around (notably, not playing ball) were part of the original crew.
I had to ask, “What’s changed?”
Tilting his head slightly, gazing up, he scratched his chin.
“Well, there were smaller teams, maybe only ten to a side [where now, there are about 60]. And it was a lot less agro.” Also he said, everyone played naked. He missed the latent homosexuality.
I couldn’t resist pointing out, “there still appears to be plenty of latent homosexuality.”
He gave a slight nod, kind of a shrug, in agreement.
My friend, the traveller, said to me, “In Portland, it seems, lots of people prefer to be naked.”
“Waaaaait a minute,” I said with a joking elbow-jab, “you mean it’s not like that everywhere else?”
“Pepper” was code for park security (or police). Anytime someone made the call, beers were hidden or discarded completely. The words “ass, cash and pussy” were repeated, no less than 50 times, in a mind-numbing song that didn’t seem to have much more to it than that. A jug band played in the grass nearby, just out of earshot.
Quite a spectacle!
If that doesn’t sound like a good time for a Monday Night, I’d like to hear what is.